Thrill of the chase

Yorkshire Post - YP Magazine - - Front Page -

The first points-to-points fol­lowed a day’s fox­hunt­ing. John Vin­cent

Dressed near iden­ti­cally in black boots, white breeches, bright red coats and, most of them any­way, black top hats, th­ese rid­ers would at first glance ap­pear to be tak­ing part in a fox­hunt, tra­di­tional sport of the Bri­tish coun­try­side since the 18th cen­tury.

But, wait, hunt­ing rarely at­tracts such a large band of el­e­gantly at­tired spec­ta­tors, all neatly cor­ralled be­hind a rail... and where are the hounds?

The an­swer is that the rid­ers are com­pet­ing in an early steeple­chase, that typ­i­cally Bri­tish and Ir­ish race held over fixed fences and be­tween church steeple and church steeple.

But ini­tial thoughts of a hunt paint­ing are not far off the mark; early pointto-points were orig­i­nally con­tested by hunts­men im­me­di­ately after the hunt ended.

And that is what has been cap­tured so bril­liantly in this oil by Leeds-born Ge­orge Wright (1860-1942), a mas­ter of eques­trian art. The painter rode to hounds him­self and his un­der­stand­ing of the equine form, par­tic­u­lar in terms of pace and move­ment, con­trib­uted greatly to the em­pa­thy and sen­si­tiv­ity with which he im­bued his work.

The 18in by 24in paint­ing, The Steeple­chase, is ex­hib­ited at this week­end’s Pavil­ions of Har­ro­gate Dec­o­ra­tive, An­tiques and Art Fair at the York­shire Show­ground, where it is of­fered by the Sut­cliffe Gal­leries of Royal Pa­rade, Har­ro­gate, at £8,750.

The first steeple­chase, in 1752, is re­puted to have re­sulted from a wager be­tween neigh­bours Cornelius O’Cal­laghan and Ed­mund Blake, who raced four miles cross-coun­try, over stone walls, ditches and hedges, be­tween two lo­cal churches in Don­eraile, County Cork. This form of “my horse against yours” soon spread to Eng­land, where the first re­ported race in­volv­ing more than two horses took place in 1792, when Charles Meynell de­feated Lord Forester and Mr Gil­bert in an eight-mile race from Barkby Holt to Billes­don Co­plow, Le­ices­ter­shire, and back.

The first recog­nised English Na­tional Steeple­chase fol­lowed in 1830 – a four­mile race in Bed­ford­shire won by Cap­tain Mac­dowall on The Won­der in a time of 16 min­utes 25 sec­onds.

The most fa­mous steeple­chase of all, the Grand Na­tional, was first run at Maghull in 1837, switch­ing to Ain­tree two years later.

Fi­nally, a few words about the artist, one of at least five chil­dren born to Ge­orge and El­iz­a­beth Wright, among them the artist Gil­bert Scott Wright and a pi­o­neer of fash­ion art, Louise. Ge­orge moved from Head­in­g­ley to Rugby in 1901, then to Ox­ford and Rich­mond, Sur­rey, where he rode with the Old Sur­rey Hounds. In his early years he of­ten com­bined with Gil­bert on cal­en­dars and illustrations but ex­hib­ited at the Royal Academy and other lead­ing venues in his own right, paint­ing a suc­ces­sion of su­perb horse por­traits and ac­tion pic­tures de­pict­ing hunt­ing, coach­ing and polo.

Hunts­men turn steeplechasers in this oil by York­shire artist Ge­orge Wright, on sale in Har­ro­gate this week­end.

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